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Mush! Human-powered sled race will celebrate Year of the Dog at Tacoma First Night festival

Wearing illuminated suits comprised of over 400 battery-powered lights, Dale Hillius and his daughter, Isabelle, walk behind an illuminated horse in the World's Shortest Parade at Tacoma's First Night celebration on Dec. 31, 2015.
Wearing illuminated suits comprised of over 400 battery-powered lights, Dale Hillius and his daughter, Isabelle, walk behind an illuminated horse in the World's Shortest Parade at Tacoma's First Night celebration on Dec. 31, 2015. News Tribune file photo

Alex Hooper will be mushing a sled through downtown Tacoma New Year’s Eve.

But the 13-year-old won’t be depending on snow conditions or huskies to win his race. Instead, it’ll be his Boy Scout troop that determines his success — possibly including his older brother.

“I think I’m going to be yelling some of those commands like a person would be with sled dogs,” Alex said. “I think I might study a little bit.”

Gig Harbor Boy Scout Troop 212 is one of about 10 teams expected in the so-called Iditarace, which will be part of the 25th annual First Night Tacoma festival.

The race is a nod to the fact that 2018 is the Lunar Year of the Dog, which First Night will celebrate early with music and other performances throughout the Theater District.

Teams of up to 8 will start pulling their mushers on homemade “sleds” at South 9th and Commerce streets, head up the 9th Street hill, turn right on St. Helens Avenue and race until they hit Market Street.

Two groups will race at a time, starting about 9 p.m., said organizer Kevin Joyce. His company, EnJoy Productions, coordinates outdoor events for First Night.

Having all the teams race at once would be “absurd and dangerous and impossible,” he joked.

Bystanders will be able to watch along the route, behind barricades.

In addition to the new race, First Night also will feature the traditional “World’s Shortest Parade,” led by an animal puppet made by Seattle artist Annett Mateo that corresponds with the coming year.

That means a large canine puppet will lead the pack for the block-long procession at 6 p.m. near South 9th Street and Broadway, followed by illuminated creatures from previous years — including last year’s rooster.

Organizers are still looking for volunteers to carry some of the creations in the parade, which kicks off the festival, and is centrally located to the many outdoor stages and indoor venues that will feature performances throughout the night.

Buttons purchased at the festival or in advance grant visitors admission to the indoor events, as well as some downtown museums.

The opening ceremony for the Iditarace will feature the Filthy FemCorps, a 30-piece female brass band from Seattle that has played First Night before.

Then the teams will be announced.

They’ve built and designed their sleds, each picking a theme. They’ve also picked a community organization to race for.

The three teams with the fastest times will win a donation for their chosen group — with $3,000 to be distributed total.

There also will be awards for the best design, best spirit and the “doghouse” award for the team that comes in last.

Technically, the deadline to sign up for the race has passed. But latecomers are encouraged to call 206-818-8136 as soon as possible to see if arrangements can be made.

Troop 212’s theme is camping, and they’re hoping the prize money will help send scouts to camp in New Mexico this summer.

Alex will be sitting in a tent on top of their sled (a cart on wheels), holding a marshmallow over a pretend fire.

“I think we’re going to win, but it will be a great race with some great competition, and we’re just going to have to be ready for it,” he said.

The troop quickly settled on Alex as the musher — he’s the smallest and weighs the least.

The competition for the team to pull the sled will be tougher. They plan to have timed trials later this week to finalize the roster.

Alex expects his 15-year-old brother to get a spot on the team.

“I think it will be pretty funny to watch him pulling me,” he said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell

If you go

Buttons that get visitors into indoor activities and some downtown museums can be purchased at the event, at firstnighttacoma.org, or at locations throughout the community, such as Columbia Bank branches. They’re $15 at the event and slightly less expensive in advance.

▪ The information booth will be outside, at 901 Broadway, in Tacoma’s Theater District.

▪ For a schedule, visit firstnighttacoma.org/schedule.

▪ Those who’d like to help carry puppets can get more information by visiting firstnighttacoma.org/volunteer.

▪ Though it’s a celebration of the Year of the Dog, organizers discourage four-legged visitors — with the exception of service animals.

▪ Garage parking is available, with suggested access between South 9th and 11th streets on Market Street.

▪ The Tacoma Link train also will take visitors to and from parking at the Tacoma Dome station, with the last train leaving the Theater District about 1 a.m.

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